In little and big shops alike all over the world, a bell rings as you push open the door. That little ding lets employees know not just when someone enters, but also when someone leaves, allowing them to keep track of whether customers are coming or going in real time even when things are hectic.
Now, with digital storefronts becoming often the first and sole point of contact for customers, they hear that comforting sound less. It’s not gone, however–we still hear it all the time! Invisible and silent to the user, digital storefronts and webpages alike have entry bells that tell us not only when users are entering and leaving, but also what they’re doing!
These silent alarms are ubiquitous on the internet, just like how a shop’s employees might silently watch and take note of what items customers look at or pick up. In fact, it’s even better–not only are the employees (metaphorically) watching what customers do, they’re writing a log as well!
In a store, obviously, it isn’t actually expected that employees take note of who picks up what item, whether they bought it, or how long they browsed, but in a digital storefront, there are silent alarms on everything. Every time someone clicks a button, a silent alarm is sounded that the customer can’t hear, and that alarm gets written down. In fact, we can even tell how long they were doing it, how long they were in a particular section, all automatically and frictionlessly.
Now, if this were an actual store, there’s only so much an owner could do with all of that information. Having a record of when all these things happened is great, but most people have neither the time nor inclination to sit down and look through it all. Once again, digital storefronts have an easy time, as systems like Google Analytics 4, and tools which enhance it, that let you make powerful, meaningful inferences from the data that’s collected.
Following this store analogy: suppose you notice that certain aisles aren’t very trafficked, and the items on those shelves don’t sell well. With the available online tools and data, you could learn that people are avoiding those aisles because of a garish sign you put up, or perhaps, those aisles are at the far end of the store, and your customers overlook them because they’re tired.
As for how this all works, you’ve probably seen a common tool when visiting sites normally–the browser ‘cookie’. A cookie is a tiny bit of data that customers keep on them, a bit like a rewards card with notes scribbled in the margins. Other times, it’s almost literally a tiny, digital alarm that goes off when a user presses a button–such as to add an item to their cart–that gets recorded. With modern data collection, it’s trivial to look at how traffic flows through your website and what customers are doing on each page. This can let you–and us–know if any changes need to be made to improve your customers’ experience on your site. It can also tell you how well your site and business are performing, by evaluating how often customers do what it is you want. In time, we’ll have even more powerful analytical and collection techniques to help you run your business better.